Saturday, May 5, 2012

George Goodman: Scattered Energies, No Lessened Force

George H. Goodman, a whiskey man from Paducah, Kentucky, was described by a contemporary this way:  “He possess the power of scattering his energies without lessening their force.”   True words.  Goodman was amazing in his ability to keep his liquor business operating smoothly and profitably in no fewer than six widely scattered cities.

Goodman apparently came from high energy American stock.  His grandfather was one of the earliest settlers in the Paducah area, a merchant who loaded a boat with merchandise and traded his stock at points between Pittsburgh and New Orleans.  After disposing of his stock he would sell the boat and return home to Kentucky on horseback. Goodman’s grandmother had an even more thrilling tale to tell.  Her parents, early settlers in Tennessee, were massacred by Indians.  She escaped, hid in a brush pile and witnessed the slayings.
Both George’s grandparents lived to be more than 100 years,  driving their own horse to a family reunion after they had passed the century mark.

George’s father, John Goodman, has been described as a “well-to-do planter” widely known in that part of Kentucky.  His mother was Mary Jane Glasscock.  She was a member of the Haycraft family, said to be prominent in the state’s social and political history.   George was born in March 1876 in the town of Big Clifty, Kentucky.  He attended public school in Paducah,  dropping out at age 12 to become a wage earner.   He clerked in shoe and drug stores, eventually became a traveling salesman, most likely in the liquor trade.

In 1900 at the age of 24, Goodman borrowed $500 from his father to start a retail liquor business in Paducah.  His first location was at 106-108 North Second Av. and, needing more space, in 1907 moved to 115-117 South Second.   As his enterprise became increasingly profitable, he branched out into mail order sales and began to open branch stores in a succession of cities.   They included Jackson, Tennessee; Evansville, Indiana;  Cairo, Illinois;  and Shreveport and New Orleans, Louisiana.  George called these “Branch Houses.”   At one point he also claimed to own the Early Times Distillery in Nelson County, Kentucky, but records fail to sustain the claim.  More likely he was buying all or most of the liquor produced at that facility to create his own brands of whiskey.

“Red Rock” was the firm’s flagship label and appears on many of its ads and promotional materials.   In addition, The company used multiple brand names, including "Clear Creek," "Fawndale,” "Moss Rose Rye,” "Old Bagby,” "Old Charlesworth.” "Old J. L. F.,”, "Old Mc Haney,” "Old Oakford,” "Shady Springs," “Smokey Mountain Corn” and "Standing Rock." He registered the Red Rock name with the Patent & Trademark Office in 1905 but does not seem to have bothered for the other labels.

Goodman’s multiple outlets were often recorded on the ceramic jugs he often used to hold his whiskey.  They display a variety of labels, in black and cobalt blue, that likely reflect the places from which they were shipped.  He also bottled his product in glass, once again with his far-flung houses mentioned.  The bottle shown here lists Cairo, Paducah, Evansville and New Orleans.  He also provided giveaways to favored customers, including mini jugs and shot glasses.

In his merchandising literature,  Goodman boasted that the combined business of his houses enabled him to place contracts with distilleries that insured the very lowest market prices. His many outlets, the folder claimed, allowed transport from one to three days earlier than his competition. A Goodman pamphlet, entitled “Our Success”  also asserted that in 1910 his firm realized a total of $800,000 in trade.  If true, the $500 from Goodman’s father  been had been multiplied 1,600 times in less than a decade.

In 1910, now well established as a whiskey man at age 34,  Goodman became engaged to and married Margery L. Cumbaugh in Dyersville, Tennessee.  She was 10 years his junior and a graduate of Ward College in Nashville.  Her father was a Paducah businessman and Methodist minister. George and Margery would become the parents of three daughters, one of whom died in infancy.

During World War One,  while continuing to run his far-flung liquor interests, Goodman was chairman of the McCracken County Council of Defense and the head of the committee in charge of the sale of Liberty Bonds in the Paducah region.  With the end of the war and the advent of National Prohibition in 1920,  Goodman shut down his whiskey business and moved vigorously in other directions.  He bought a Paducah newspaper,  the News-Democrat, in 1922 and took a close interest in its operations.  As one contemporary source reported”  “He has made his paper an effective exponent of local interests.” About the same time he became president of the Smith & Scott Tobacco Company of Paducah and developed a farm of three hundred acres, on which he built a modern dairy and engaged in raising hogs.  He also maintained large and profitable real estate interests in Paducah.

As his reputation as a businessman grew,  Goodman was tapped for other prestige jobs.  This school dropout  at 12 years became president of the Paducah Board of Trade and  was prominent in Democratic Party circles.  He also became one of Western Kentucky’s most prominent horse racing proponents; the first record breaking trotting house in the county was bred and developed on his farm.   George’s prominence was such that President Roosevelt named him as Kentucky State Administrator of the WPA, the Depression-era works organization.  He served in that position for at least the next four years.  He is shown here, second from left, front row, with a number of Democratic politicians.

George Goodman died in Paducah in 1961 at the age of 85,  something of a tribute to the energy and longevity of his ancestors.  In his obituaries Goodman was hailed for his success as a journalist, tobacco dealer, realtor, agriculturalist and breeder of racing stock -- and, of course, liquor dealer.  A contemporary account said:  “From an early age he depended on his own efforts for a livelihood and what he accomplished represents the full utilization of his innate powers and talents.”  Again, true words.  In just two decades and a $500 start  Goodman had created a whiskey distribution network second to none in the United States.


  1. I currently live in Paducah so this is really interesting.

    1. You might likewise be interested in our FB site
      Alive and Well and Living in Paducah.

  2. Just found an old goodman bottle in a '38 Ford coupe restoration car

  3. Mark: Thanks for letting me know about the Goodman bottle you found. Since I have no evidence that Goodman got back in the whiskey trade after Repeal (1934), I assume that the latest the jug can be dated is 1920 and likely earlier. It may already have reached the 100 "antique" age. Jack